Sunday, May 27, 2007

Jay Stevens on Brucellosis

Over at Left in the West, Jay Stevens has a thought-provoking post on brucellosis. This is a disease that cattle gave to bison and now bison can give it back to cattle. It has been quite contentious over the past couple of decades near Yellowstone National Park. Jay writes that "brucellosis is the perfect collision between environment, industry, immigration, and history." Absolutely true. Europeans brought it over and infected wildlife. Now we have an industry in the West that is economically struggling and declining. Brucellosis infections can wipe out a ranch.

From a strictly economically or environmentally rational point of view, one might argue that we should force out this marginal industry from the West. But is that so simple? First, and I will go into this in more detail when I write about my grasslands trip, if you simply take the cattle off the land, this leaves ranchers with one reasonable economic option: sell their land for housing developments. Do any of us with an environmental consciousness want this? I don't think so. The damage that housing causes wildlife is far more than ranching. Second, the traditions and way of life of these people have legitimacy. We need to find ways for ranchers to stay on the land and keep their ranches together, with or without cattle. It's better for people and the land to do so. This could happen through tourism, though there is a limited market for that I suppose. Perhaps some organic cattle raising could work too, which would keep the cows healthier and give ranchers a higher price for their beef.

There is no clear answer and we need a more open discussion about these issues.